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In to the mountains on an even bumpier road – Tensker Hot Springs
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Thu 20 Jun ’13 – day 40   Tensker Hot Springs

A barking dog woke me a few times during the night, but other than that I slept pretty well.

As I needed to go to the loo I was up at 06:40 hours, so walked over to the toilet block and then had an all over wash.

The owner’s children were up and about.

Breakfast was pancakes, cheese, jam and coffee, very filling – then eggs and bacon arrived; I had some but the others declined, however Wednesday had a double helping.

As we drove away the owner gave the time-honoured blessing but was not dressed in traditional costume.

We headed off west around the lake and saw lots of eagles and buzzards hunting the small mice that are everywhere.

At one point Wednesday didn’t like the look of a river crossing, so he drove to the nearest ger where he asked the man (very Chinese looking) whether it was OK, answer yes, so we gave it a try and went over no problem.

Miles of open steppe, the most we’ve seen and judging by the number of salt pans and water pools this whole area was probably a shallow lake at one time.

Very bumpy tracks along the way and when we reached the far side of the lake (north) we joined a larger track that was marked on the map as a road; in Britain it would be an unclassified road or even lower.

We went over a very well constructed concrete bridge with just a trickle of water at present but obviously when it rains this becomes a wide and deep river.

On and on along the dusty track with the occasional van or truck passing us at speed.  The passengers in them must be bouncing around like mad as it was bad enough in our vehicle and Wednesday is driving very conservatively.

We made a short stop in a small village so that David & Chris could change some money – no go as this was only a small branch and they didn’t have the necessary paperwork.  We went into a shop where I bought a Russian ice-cream similar to the one I had in Nizhny Novgorod, but it tasted much better as it wasn’t so frozen.

Off again and the steppe has changed to low rolling hills, so up and down and up and down for many more miles.  Views into the far distance in all directions; it seemed strange to get to the top of a particularly high hill and see the yellow track (the soil is almost sand) stretching away as the eye can see.  When we reach a junction, some of which are barely noticeable, how Wednesday knows which one to take is amazing as there are no sign posts or even noticeable landmarks.

We stopped on a long flat stretch so everyone could go behind the mini-bus to relieve themselves as there were no long drops.  A couple of vans passed in the other direction going at speed and it is almost if there are only two speeds, stop and flat out.

On for more miles until we came across the main road from Harborn heading west, a blacktop and the first one we had seen for three days, but we just went straight over and along more tracks.

We were now going through the foothills of the mountains that we could see in the distance.  Into a small village that looked as if it had been a soviet garrison at one time as all the houses were exactly the same and laid out in neat rows – married quarter’s Mongolian style.  A couple of the old barrack blocks had been refurbished and were now dormitories for the local school.  The HQ area was complete with a parade square that was now being used by a local builder as his storage site.

Wednesday located the fuel point (every village has one) and filled up and we then headed south and up into the mountains.  Soon the landscape became one of hills and valleys with trees growing on the north facing slopes – deciduous trees grew along the river banks and then we saw our first yak.  The further up the valley we went the greener the pasture became, but it was still strange to see one hillside covered in trees and the opposite side completely bare.

All the animals were grazing along the valley floor and the gers were numerous than on the steppe and were also grouped together.

There had been some short rain showers during the day and the intensity increased as we went into the mountains, so what with the dust and rain drops it became difficult to see out of the vans side windows, so we all looked forward.

Our ger camp for the night at Tensker Hot Springs was tucked in against the hillside and was by far and away the best situated of the four camps at this location; the others were spread out along the valley floor and looked quite intrusive.

The main building was an Alpine style lodge which would not have been out of place anywhere in Southern Germany or Austria; built of logs it contained the kitchen, restaurant, showers and toilets plus an outside patio area.

The camp is at an altitude of 1860 meters amsl, so nearly 7000 feet up, but you don’t feel at this height as the average for the whole of the country is over 1000 meters.

After we dropped off our bags we had a very late lunch, 16:00 hours, as it had taken well over six hours to travel the 130km from Lake Ugli.

Then a snooze before walking up to the source of the hot springs.  I should have put my trousers legs back on as the midges were biting.  As we followed the pipe up the valley we passed two old soviet era buildings that had start to collapse; the pipe was supported by logs so that the heat did not go into the ground.  The pipes for the other camps went across the valley at about waist height supported on wooden structures and it provided a barrier that prevented the cow, horse and yak herds from moving further up the valley.

The source of the hot spring is marked by a Buddhist shrine which was constructed out of long wooden poles put together to resemble a tepee and then filled with rocks and stones and the whole then had prayer streamers wrapped around it.  We paid our respects by each adding a stone and then walking around the shrine three times in a clockwise direction.

  

The water comes out of the ground at 86°C; the soviets had built a concrete structure to capture the water and then funnel it into pipes.  While we stood there eight golden eagles were soaring in circles and then plunging towards the ground as they hunted ground squirrels – it was an amazing sight.

Back down to the camp and after a shower it was trunks on and out into the hot spa – and it was hot.  The ladies pool was so hot that they had to use ours and once I had settled down into the water (which took some time) the heat took all sting out of many midge bites on my legs and my muscles relaxed considerably.

The pool was so hot that you could only sit there for 15 minutes maximum, so out, wash my hair, put clean clothes on and then go to dinner; yet another excellent meal and the two beers went down very well.

I went to bed at 21:30 hours, but was up a couple of hours later to go to the toilet and it was very strange to see electric lights shining from the lodge windows.